The best areas to stay in San Diego. Blessed by its warmth and year-round sunny skies, San Diego is best known for its fun beaches, top attractions, such as the San Diego Zoo, a thriving culinary scene, and an impressive array of craft breweries (more than 150 according to the latest count). We visited it this summer and, when we were planning the trip, I expected it to be pleasant for them. After all, with attractions like the world-famous San Diego Zoo and Legoland, how could it not be that way? But I wasn't sure what the city would offer to an ever-skeptical and easily bored traveler like me.
Don't let the name fool you. Balboa Park is not a park in the sense of Central Park. In fact, it's made up of a staggering 17 museums, gardens galore and the San Diego Zoo. It spans 1,200 acres and isn't too far from downtown.
Hamadryas Baboons at the San Diego Zoo Yes, it's in the park, but you can't visit this sanctuary as part of a visit to the park and do it justice. It's no surprise that the San Diego Zoo is considered one of the best in the world. Visitors immerse themselves in a tropical environment with palm trees and colorful plants and walk along winding and picturesque trails to see more than 4,000 animals. They include koalas, Galapagos turtles, leopards, penguins, baboons, weaver birds, and the list goes on and on.
Programs that offer encounters and presentations with animals take place throughout. Are you ready to take a step back in time? That's exactly what visiting the old town is all about. This is the city's oldest enclave and the site of the first European settlement in California. The old town also has three parks, a regular schedule of art exhibitions, more than 100 stores selling everything from handmade candy to local crafts, and an incredible food scene.
Choose from more than 25 restaurants, including some of the best Mexican places where you've probably never dined. Many offer live music at night and are places where the hours pass before you know it. As a fan of tequila, I can confidently share that the selection of this liquor is extensive in all of them. An aerial shot of beautiful La Jolla.
Some of the city's most popular tourist attractions are the Spanish colonial-style museums, gardens and architecture found in Balboa Park; the world-famous San Diego Zoo; and the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum. Balboa Park is a unique paradise for tourists. This 1,400-acre site encompasses historic buildings, numerous museums, gardens and green spaces. The park was created for the Panama California Exposition of 1915-1916, and most of the buildings remain from that event.
The predominant architecture is in the Spanish style, with low-rise buildings that blend with the natural environment. One of the main tourist attractions in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most famous zoos in the United States. Visiting this family-friendly attraction is also one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids. Plan at least a full day here to get the most out of your visit.
Safari Park's carefully designed habitats support the zoo's mission to educate visitors about protecting the environment. The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance invests in conservation projects around the world dedicated to restoring wildlife populations to their natural habitats. If your feet hurt when strolling through the park, you can always hop on the kangaroo bus or glide through the exhibits on the Skyfari cable car. Better yet, buy a skip-the-line ticket to the San Diego Zoo, which includes admission as well as unlimited rides on the bus and streetcar.
You'll also avoid long lines at the entrance. The San Diego Zoo is about a 40-minute drive north of downtown San Diego. The restored Victorian buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are home to lively entertainment venues, trendy shops, art galleries and restaurants serving every type of cuisine you can imagine, from Persian food to pizza. This is a great place to see jazz, comedy, or live theater shows.
The district stretches for about 16 blocks, from Broadway to San Diego Bay, and is easy to walk, but you can also hop on a bicycle taxi if your feet need a rest. Highlights of a visit to the USS Midway Museum include more than 60 exhibits and more than 30 restored aircraft. More than 225,000 military service members served on the ship, and you can take a self-guided audio tour to learn all about its history. For an additional fee, you can also try an onboard flight simulator.
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was California's first mission. In 1769, the Franciscan Spanish Father from Mallorca, Junípero Serra, founded the mission stations, the first of which was built in San Diego. However, a few years after its founding, it moved six miles inland because disputes had arisen between Spanish troops and Indians. In 1775, the Indians set fire to the new mission, the Fathers sought refuge in the army and it wasn't until 1777 that they built a new mission station with the help of the Indians.
Art lovers looking for a dose of culture should visit the San Diego Art Museum in Balboa Park. Its distinctive façade is a 17th century copy of the University of Salamanca, in the so-called Plateresque style, with finely chiseled terracotta works. Busts of Spanish painters adorn the entrance, and their artworks are among the many eclectic exhibits shown here. The best way to get up close and personal with these gentle giants is aboard a whale watching cruise in San Diego.
This 4.5-hour cruise takes place aboard a replica of the old sailing schooner that won the Copa América in 1851.In addition to an exciting sailing experience, you'll also get to know the different species of marine life, as well as the United States Navy sites you'll pass through along the way. Drinks, snacks and the whale watching guarantee are included in the tour. For anyone interested in the history of aviation and space flight, you can't miss this museum in Balboa Park. The museum educates the public about aeronautical and space age technology, with exhibits that help visitors understand the chronology and pace of progress.
The museum begins its presentation of the history of flying with a model of the first hot air balloon, launched by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783, and a reproduction of the Wright brothers' gliders. The presentation continues with exhibits of rare historic aircraft dating back to the First World War. Immaculate military aircraft from World War II are also on display, including the Navy F6F Hellcat and the A-4 Skyhawk Jet. The modern multi-level building offers a cozy space for museum exhibits.
Green building techniques were used to build the 50,000 square foot museum. SeaWorld San Diego combines the features of an aquarium and an amusement park. There are marine animal exhibits and thrilling roller coaster rides, as well as milder attractions for the little ones. Located on 100 acres of Mission Bay Park grounds, SeaWorld provides children with the opportunity to learn about marine animals such as walruses, sea lions, sea turtles, penguins and flamingos.
If this is your first time visiting this place to visit the city's main tourist attractions, the city center is one of the best places to stay in San Diego. If the sun, sand and sea are high on your list, you can stay northwest of the city in one of San Diego's salt-filled coastal towns, such as Pacific Beach, Mission Beach or Ocean Beach. For an exclusive seaside getaway, La Jolla is an excellent choice. And if you're traveling with kids, the city offers great family resorts close to the beach, wilderness areas, and attractions such as SeaWorld and Balboa Park, where you can find the San Diego Zoo, the Botanical Garden, and an impressive range of museums.
Coronado Island is a narrow peninsula that juts out from the southernmost part of San Diego and forms San Diego Bay. The quasi-island is known for being a tourist city and is aimed at families who want to enjoy high-end hotels, the beach and the picturesque city center without having to travel too much. One of the benefits of vacationing in Coronado is that you won't need a car to explore the area, which includes some of San Diego's most beautiful beaches and a quintessential coastal town. You can get to Coronado by car, crossing the picturesque Coronado Bridge, or taking the ferry that leaves from the Broadway Pier and the Fifth Avenue Convention Center.
Downtown San Diego overlooks the picturesque San Diego Bay and is a great place to stay if you want to explore the best activities San Diego has to offer. For example, the center is home to the historic Gaslamp Quarter, famous for its lively nightlife, and Little Italy, which has some of the city's best restaurants. Mission Beach is a narrow strip of land that divides the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay. It's a popular destination for laid-back travelers looking to enjoy the ocean, the sun, and a variety of casual bars and restaurants.
While the area certainly isn't upscale, it does offer something for everyone, including families, young people, and everyone in between. Mission Beach is also centrally located, making it easy to visit downtown and the surrounding attractions without being in the hustle and bustle. The area also offers easy access to both the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay, where you can do a variety of water activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming, and is also home to Belmont Park, a beachfront theme park with an old roller coaster located on South Mission Beach. Pacific Beach (PB) is a bustling California coastal town, whose many bars attract crowds of young college students and recent graduates.
The area is very relaxed, and most people opt for flip flops and swimsuits during the day and almost as casual attire at night when they flock to the many bars. You won't find many luxury options in PB, but you'll find a lot of the relaxed, beachy spirit of San Diego. I especially recommend a stay at Pacific Beach for young people looking for lively nights and beach days. La Jolla, known as “La Joya”, is a luxurious neighborhood with some of San Diego's most expensive homes, the most beautiful coastline and the best luxury hotels.
The area is home to La Jolla Shores, one of San Diego's most beloved beaches, as well as La Jolla Cove and tide pools. And the city center has numerous art galleries and a variety of great dining options. Most of the best places to stay in La Jolla are expensive, luxurious and unique, and offer a special experience to those who stay here. In addition, most are within walking distance of the beach, and the La Jolla Shores Hotel offers access to San Diego's only private beach.
This is my number one recommendation for anyone looking for a romantic getaway or a luxury vacation at a beach resort. Del Mar is another upscale area in San Diego, although smaller and less ostentatious than La Jolla. The town is quaint and offers relaxed restaurants, as well as some more elegant dining options, art galleries and stunning cliff-top views of the Pacific Ocean. Some of the nearby attractions include the world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course, as well as the beautiful outdoor recreational area, Torrey Pines State Park.
Del Mar is the perfect destination for a luxurious and relaxed vacation for anyone trying to escape the hustle and bustle. Ocean Beach will offer a more unique and unforgettable experience than Mission Beach. Many young people moving to San Diego say that a stay at OB allowed them to pick them up and move to the city full time. Downtown San Diego is a great place to stay if you like to explore modern, lively bars and restaurants and want a more urban living experience in San Diego.
The center also offers the easiest access to places such as Balboa Park, Little Italy, the San Diego Zoo and other sites. If you want a relaxed beach vacation, I recommend staying in a different neighborhood in San Diego, but the view of the San Diego skyline is unparalleled from the bay. Or try Cali-Baja, San Diego's regional cuisine that combines Baja Med Californian and Mexican styles. The best beach weather in San Diego is from late summer to early fall, when temperatures reach 70 degrees near the coast.
This is one of San Diego's relatively cheap hotels, and rates include free parking and continental breakfast. Or, head to Old Town San Diego and choose from virtually any Mexican restaurant in the area for special food and drink offers. Ocean Beach (OB) is one of San Diego's quirkiest beachside neighborhoods and is known for being bohemian, eclectic and wild, and attracts people of the same description. This will allow you to avoid the crowds at the entrance, so you have more time to visit other of San Diego's top attractions.
However, if you stay in the city center, you can easily access many of the main attractions, such as the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, the harbor, the shops of Horton Plaza, Little Italy and Petco Park, where the Padres play. Some of San Diego's best hotels are located north of the city, in spectacular wilderness areas near La Jolla, an exclusive coastal neighborhood about 14 miles northwest of the city center. About a 20-minute drive from Torrey Pines State Reserve, in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve, the 400-acre Fairmont Grand Del Mar is one of the best hotels in San Diego. San Diego has some of the most incredible Mexican foods north of the border (I may be a little biased about it, but I stand by my opinion).
Whale watching trips are one of the best things to do in San Diego from December to April, when the gray whale migration kicks in. But fear not, because I'm a San Diego local and I'm here to break down what each neighborhood has to offer and make it easy to choose the one that works best for you. Legoland is about a 20-minute drive north, and family-friendly destinations such as La Jolla, SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo and Torrey Pines Reserve are just a short drive away. .